Giant Bomb Review

145 Comments

Shadow Complex Review

5
  • XBGS

Shadow Complex is amazing from start to finish... and after you finish it, you'll probably feel like diving right back in for another run.


Given the right equipment, you'll even be able to run on water. 
Upon completing Shadow Complex--a task that took me close to five hours--the first thing I did was reload my final save so I could go back and collect all of the items I missed. Three hours later, I had cleared the game with 100 percent of the items collected. With that out of the way, I started over on a harder difficulty setting. That's the nature of Chair Entertainment's side-scrolling action-adventure. There's enough to it to probably satisfy people who only like to complete single-player games once, but it's set up in a way that really inspires you to play it again and again.

The game itself is an updated take on the great side-scrolling adventures of the past, like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Much like those games, you're presented with a large world that's sectioned off into areas that can't be accessed without specific items. So the game progresses as you fight your way through an underground facility, collecting new items and getting closer to figuring out what the heck is going on around there.

The reason this facility is such a mystery is because you're not some super-secret mega spy. You're just some dude, enticed to go cave exploring in the Pacific Northwest because of some girl you met the night before. She's immediately captured, leaving you with nothing but a flashlight. As it turns out, you've stumbled upon a base for the Progressive Restoration, some sort of secret terrorist force that's in the final stages planning an attack on San Francisco, with designs to take over the entire country. As it turns out, they've teched the hell up, too, because the facility is churning out big mechanized units and some kind of super armor that you'll slowly piece together over the course of the game. The game's story is only really a factor in a few specific spots, as there's a real focus on the action. You'll only learn about your foes by overhearing conversations between enemy soldiers. It does, however, wrap up just fine at the end, both providing a touch of closure while giving you the impression that this budding conflict is far from over.

Though you won't start with much, by the end of the game you'll amass quite the arsenal. Your weapon will upgrade from a simple pistol to some kind of killer auto- shotgun. You'll get a jet pack that lets you double and triple jump. You'll get grenades, missiles, and a foam gun, each of which is used to open specific passages. The foam gun is cool because you can also use it to incapacitate enemies or attach it to walls to create walkways or platforms. 

Jason's just this guy, you know? 
By default, the map screen in Shadow Complex provides you with a bright blue line that shows you exactly where to go next, along with a line of text detailing what you're supposed to be doing next. Playing this way makes the game feel pretty linear, but along the way it's easy to get curious about what's off in some other direction and start exploring. Exploring every little corner of the map is what gets you a ton of additional items. Most of it's just extra ammo capacity for your secondary weapons, but health tanks and armor upgrades become pretty vital, especially on the higher difficulty settings. You'll also find gold bars (which unlock a special little something if you get them all) and pass-key components that... well, it should suffice to say that every item in the game serves a pretty meaningful purpose.

Unlike most other games of this sort, Shadow Complex utilizes the right stick for analog aiming. This lets you pick off head shots from a distance, nail guys from behind cover, and really makes the combat satisfying. The melee attacks, which cut away to up-close animations of enemies getting jacked, are also a lot of fun. You'll encounter a few larger enemies along the way, too. While most of them aren't involved enough to be considered full-on boss battles, things like spider-like walkers or little two-legged mechs get their own lifebars and take a bit more work to bring down. I found that just hammering on the grenade button until everything around you is dead is a good way to go for most of these bigger fights. 
 
Fighting enemies also has another benefit--you earn experience points as you go, both for destroying enemies and simply exploring the facility. You'll also earn an experience bonus for behaving in a more tactical manner, like getting headshots or using melee attacks. Every time you gain a level, you either earn a quick statistical boost, but every 10 levels you get something bigger, like a health increase, or infinite ammo for one of your secondary weapons, or something like that. The highest level is 50, and that's not a number that you're likely to hit on your first playthrough, but your level carries through from one session to the next. I finished the game at level 23, and after playing for another eight or so hours, I'm now in the mid-30s. Higher difficulty levels get your more experience, too, giving you a reason to pump things up to one of the harder settings. 
 
If you're looking to get away from the campaign, there are a series of challenge rooms to play through, as well. Each has its own leaderboard, letting you compete against friends for the best score. There are also leaderboards for things like melee attacks and head shots. Sort of like Burnout Paradise or Shatter, Shadow Complex gives you leaderboard updates on the fly, so when you pass a friend's headshot count, a little pop-up lets you know. Seeing that pop-up made me go on an all-melee killing spree for an hour or so, just to distance myself from the pack. It's a terrific implementation of what's an otherwise standard feature in today's games.

You'll see a lot of different areas as you explore the facility. 
Visually, the only time Shadow Complex reminds you that it's not a full retail product is in some of the cutscenes. Specifically, when your lady friend is shown up close, her face... doesn't look so great. You'll also occasionally see that trademark Unreal Engine 3 graphical quirk, where the low-res graphics load in and sit there for awhile before being replaced with the detailed visuals. But all in all, the game looks great. The base is large and detailed, and it makes great use of lighting to help set the mood. There's one spot where you're walking through a room that's lit in red, and you're backlit, so you just see Jason's silhouette walking through a red room. It's pretty striking, and it certainly helps set Shadow Complex apart from the pack when it comes to digitally-distributed console games. The music, also, exists to set the mood. It doesn't get all action hero cheesy on you. Instead, it comes in during meaningful sequences and sort of stays out of your way. One scene where you're swimming through a flooded section of the base triggers a quiet, mostly piano piece that fits incredibly well. There's also a little musical sting that lets you know when you've cleared a room of enemy soldiers, which is handy in cases where you can't see the entire room on-screen at once.

Shadow Complex is an incredibly well-made game that finally grabs the " Metroidvania" subgenre and drags it into the modern era instead of relegating it to a land of remakes or portable games. Players that obsess over speed runs and 100 percent completion will certainly find a lot of replayability, but even players who just want to play a game start to finish and move on will find that the quality of Shadow Complex makes it well worth its $15 price tag.     Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
145 Comments
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Posted by get2sammyb

I've gotta say, the game does look amazing and I'm particularly jealous this won't come to the PSN. It's probably one of the first times I've been really inherently jealous of a Live Arcade release. I hope to play it at my brothers.

Posted by Zoombini

Man, I am really hyped for this.

Posted by Diamond

So you're saying at the end of Shadow Complex you learn that Jason is Zaphod?

Posted by ZeroCast

A  five. 
Damn, didn't see this one coming.
Posted by snakefry

Great review jeff. Keep up the good work dude.
Posted by Droop

Do want this.

Posted by GeekDown

As soon as my 360 comes back from repair I will buy this..

Posted by SXBIG

sold

Posted by NickM
@SXBIG said:
" sold "
Posted by JacobBrodersen

Man, I was already excited for this game! Now it can't be wednesday fast enough!

Posted by PTZen

Can't wait for wednesday seriously... Some reaaaly nice games out on XBLA recently. There goes all my saved up MSP

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

I expected this to do well, it was already an insta-buy but this just gives me one more reason.
Posted by Rhaknar

this game is looking like it will be in my GOTY list, and i dont mean "downloadable GOTY", I mean overall. Looks amazing, and i need it NOW, not fucking wednesday.

Posted by MachoFantastico

Nice review Jeff, unable to get this game this week sadly due to other costs but hoping to download it sometime next.  
 
The game look great though.

Posted by MattBodega

Terrific! And almost  kinda amazing, considering the last Chair game was the poorly received  Undertow.  
Consider it purchased.

Edited by Downloaded

I honestly cannot WAIT for this game to hit XBL.  I hope I can coax my parents into getting it for me but I'll shell out the cash myself if I have to.

Posted by Earthborn

Been really impressed with Chair. Undertow was awesome while there were still people online playing it.

Posted by kerikxi

Sold. Wednesday can't get here quick enough.

Posted by Daniel4114

Really wish this game was coming out on PSN, looks amazing, especially for a downloadable game.

Posted by Kohe321

Great review! I am definitely getting this!

Posted by Rhaknar

Chair made Undertow? damn I hate that game >_> goes to show you cant brush off games just because of developers like many do (or even worse...publishers >_<)

Posted by RagingLion

Woo for Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference in the caption.
 
If I had an Xbox I'd be sorely tempted to get this - looks really good and polished.  Definitely raising the bar for DL-only games.

Posted by SlimDogg95

Can't wait for this game....Glad to see all the reviews so far are good also. I want to see more games like this on XBLA instead of old crap or the other 5 min and done crap.

Posted by EnchantedEcho

Buying this as soon as it comes out.
Good review Jeff, I'm not surprised its 5 stars.

Posted by Peacemaker

It definitely seems like this years Bionic Commando: Rearmed to me for some reason.  I've been anticipating this game for a while now, glad to see it really lived up to it's expectations.

Posted by Aphex666

After finding to my surprise that Trials HD WAS a game for me, I get the feeling I will be getting this as well now.   
 
Oh well so much for the Summer gaming drought.

Posted by Jensonb

I didn't really understand the hype for this at E3, but between the Quick Look EX and this review, I totally get it now. Want this.

Posted by alba

I can't wait, the review won't surprise anyone for sure :P

Posted by shway

cool

Posted by silver_DewSky

 Awesome Review! Can't wait to finally play it Wednesday!

Posted by Mouth

 
Damn, I need a 360. Look at all the good s**t coming out!

Posted by Hamst3r

Ok, PC version, now!

Posted by giyanks22

Epic Games is really shelling out some good stuff. I cannot wait for this.

Posted by Schnatterfleck

I hope Wednesday is the world-wide release day. I'll certainly buy that game!

Posted by natetodamax

*sigh*
 
I spent 1200 points on Trials HD when I should have saved it for this.

Posted by RHCPfan24

YES. Great review, Jeff and I can't wait to play this.

Posted by Meltbrain

Freakin' awesome! I am pumped to get this game.

Posted by miscall
@Hamst3r said:
" Ok, PC version, now! "
Posted by RobDaFunk

HELL YEAH............Bring on Wednesday!!

Posted by Ghostiet
@Hamst3r said:
" Ok, PC version, now! "
Posted by Progman9000

Good review.  Has definitely given me another push to the "buy this game" side.  My biggest fear is that I really don't like the concept for the main character.  I don't like the "oh, he's just a dude" idea.  I mean, I'm sure it's fine for whatever story they have, but part of the draw for me in Metroid and Castlevania games is actually being Samus or one of Belmont's and just being this badass character.  Guess that means I should try the demo first...

Posted by WinterSnowblind

Really excited about this, but just don't have the money right now.
It's definitely great to see so many high quality original games coming to XBLA and PSN lately.
 
The odd port is always nice, but it's things like this, Splosion Man and Fat Princess, etc, that really shine.

Posted by skrutop

Stopped reading after one paragraph so I wouldn't know too much about the game than what I saw in the quick look.  Since Jeff obviously didn't find any nasty surprises, this is an insta-buy for me.

Posted by TripMasterMunky

I'm glad this game turned out well.

Posted by Wesker

This man tells the truth.

Posted by RawShark

Wow, 5? I can see myself getting this.

Posted by lacke

This is the first game in a very long time that I want so bad that it hurts. Ever since you guys posted that QL. I can't even remember the last game I wanted this much.
 
I love the Metroidvania formula and there haven't been a really good game since the last GBA Castlevania. The DS games are solid but nothing special imo.

Posted by WitchHunter_Z

PC version, please, please, please! Only XBLA game I really feel jealous towards 360 owners for having.

Posted by mosdl

If this comes out on Steam or PSN I will buy it.  DL-only games are finally becoming worthy of their prices (having too much fun with Fat Princess right now - soccer mode is great)

Posted by FlipperDesert

Goddamnit, why did Trials HD have to be $15 bucks too? Now I have to choose.

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